SAN DIEGO — Offense? Offense? Who needs an offense when you have all-everything, do-everything linebacker Kyle Van Noy?
While BYU struggled moving the ball and scoring points, Van Noy, who spearheaded another strong Cougar defensive effort Thursday night, pretty much took matters into his own hands and took control of the defensive slugfest in the fourth quarter.
In what could have been his final game in a BYU uniform, Van Noy scored two touchdowns in the Cougars' come-from-behind 23-6 Poinsettia Bowl victory over San Diego State before a crowd of 35,422 at Qualcomm Stadium.
It marked BYU's fourth consecutive bowl victory and its sixth straight win over SDSU.
Early in the fourth quarter, BYU trailed, 6-3, before Van Noy burst around the corner and drilled SDSU quarterback Adam Dingwell in the end zone, forcing a fumble. Van Noy pounced on the ball for a touchdown, giving the Cougars their first lead in the Poinsettia Bowl, 10-6. It was the beginning of a 20-point, fourth-quarter onslaught.
"It happened to land in my lap. I'm grateful that it did," Van Noy said. "We were talking about how someone needed to cause a turnover. All 11 guys were working as a unit. I just happened to get lucky and make the play."
And if that wasn't enough, Van Noy scored another TD with 6:09 left on a pick-six, returning an interception 17 yards into the end zone. And by the way, he also recorded a blocked punt in the third quarter.
Of course, Van Noy didn't act alone. Once again, just like they had all season, the Cougars (8-5) relied on their defense to keep them in the game.
"You can count on them for everything," said freshman running back Jamaal Williams. "You know they're going to come out and do what they do. They're the key reason why we won."
Van Noy was named the game's defensive MVP, while wide receiver Cody Hoffman earned offensive MVP honors after catching 10 passes for 114 yards.
Meanwhile, senior punter Riley Stephenson was BYU's special teams MVP after he booted six punts inside SDSU's 20-yard line, including three that landed at the 5-yard line, the 1-yard line and 2-yard line.
"Our punting game, I think, ended up making the difference," said coach Bronco Mendenhall.
"When you're inside the 50, you have to drop it down in the corner and hope it stays inside the 10," Stephenson said. "It's not much of a kick, but look what it did tonight."
Van Noy, a junior, could skip his senior year and declare himself eligible for next spring's National Football League Draft.
"He's a playmaker. He's an athlete. He's intelligent," outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga said of Van Noy. "That's what allowed him to make those plays. It was phenomenal. I hope we get him back, but I don't think it's going to happen, personally. It was a great performance by him. And if it's his last one as a Cougar, that's the way he'd want to go out. He's going to missed if he decides to leave. If he does, I don't blame him."
After Van Noy's fumble recovery TD, Dingwell fumbled a snap that was recovered by Jordan Johnson. One play later, Williams ran 14 yards for a touchdown to give BYU a 16-6 advantage.
Prior to Van Noy's first touchdown, SDSU (9-4) came up with a turnover on an interception on a deflected pass to Hoffman that was caught at the SDSU 3-yard line.
BYU's defense came to the rescue again.
In all, there were three consecutive turnovers by both teams in a matter of seconds. But the Aztecs' proved to be more costly.
"We made big-time mistakes," said SDSU coach Rocky Long. "We had a chance to win the game before the turnovers."
BYU senior James Lark started the game, his second career start, and played all but one series. Riley Nelson threw an interception in his only series in the second quarter. Lark completed 23-of-42 passes for 244 yards and two interceptions.
SDSU dominated the first half, though it didn't show on the scoreboard.
The Aztecs stuffed BYU's offense for most of the first 30 minutes and moved the ball more effectively, but they couldn't capitalize on a couple of trips inside the red zone. SDSU settled for a pair of field goal to claim a 6-0 advantage.
BYU's offense didn't reach SDSU territory until midway through the second quarter at the SDSU 49-yard line. Then Lark was sacked, forcing the Cougars to punt.
Nelson entered the game with six minutes left in second quarter. On his second play, Nelson scrambled for 13 yards to convert on third-and-8. But on the next play, Nelson threw a pass that was deflected, then intercepted by safety Eric Pinkins, whose pick-six was negated by an illegal block call. That penalty prevented SDSU from taking a 13-0 advantage.
Long said that penalty was the play of the game. "I believe if we would have scored a touchdown that time, we would have been in the lead the rest of the night."
The series was pretty much emblematic of Nelson's BYU career — a gutty play followed by a turnover.
The Cougar defense stopped San Diego State again, and BYU got the ball back with 2:07 left until halftime.
At that point, Lark returned to the game and promptly led the offense on its longest drive of the game, highlighted by a 38-yard completion over the middle to tight end Devin Mahina to the Aztec 9-yard line with five seconds left in the half. After an incompletion, Justin Sorensen kicked a 23-yard field goal as the half ended to make the score 6-3 for San Diego State.
In the final quarter, the Cougars seemed to roar to life.
"We have a never-give-up attitude we need to finish with," Van Noy said. "I think we finished tonight on all three sides of the ball with the never-give-up attitude, the effort and the playmaking. We put those three finally together and we came out with the win. It feels good to put all three together."
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